The Washington Diplomat / December 2004
By Larry Luxner
Angola, considered a basket case not even five years ago, now has the potential to be one of Africa's most prosperous countries.
That's the word from Paul J. Hare, executive director of the Washington-based U.S.-Angola Chamber of Commerce (USACC).
The nonprofit group, headquartered in an office building off Dupont Circle, was formed in 1991 — right about the time of the first major international effort to end Angola's long-running civil war.
"A few people, hoping that the war would end, got together and established this chamber. Subsequently, Angola descended back into war," said Hare. "Then there was a second major international intervention, with the signing of the Lusaka Protocol in November 1994. That got derailed as well. The war really began the second half of 1998 and lasted until the death of [UNITA leader] Jonas Savimbi in February 2002.
"Throughout all these ups and downs, the chamber survived and continued its activities," he said. "But now, with the coming of peace in Angola, the prospects are much better. Our primary mission is to expand trade and investment between the two countries."
To do that, the USACC hosts Angolan officials and private-sector people visiting the United States, supports the development of the Angolan private sector, sponsors trade missions to Angola, and keeps members informed about changes in laws, regulations, policy and economic conditions in both countries.
At present, the chamber has 85 member companies and organizations ranging from Bethesda-based American Worldwide Inc. and oil giant ExxonMobil to Seabord Corp., Schlumberger and the Angolan state oil company, Sonangol. Among the benefits of USACC membership, says Hare: association with an organization in good standing with the Angolan government; networking with other USACC members; two newsletters each year with updates on Angolan policy and issues; research and response to inquiries; participation in high-profile events in both the United States and Angola; help with visas and other procedures; letters of good standing from the chamber, and access to password-restricted areas of the USACC website at www.us-angola.org.
Annual dues are $500 for individuals and nonprofit groups; $1,000 for companies with less than $5 million in revenues, and $2,000 for companies with over $5 million in revenues. The highest level of membership, at $3,500 a year, is the USACC's Corporate Advisory Council, which includes meetings with top Angolan government and private-sector officials, as well as priority seating for restricted events and publicity in the newsletter and other USACC materials.
Hare, 66, is well-suited to the job of running the chamber.
A retired career diplomat, he's served at U.S. embassies in Australia, Vietnam, Tunisia, Kuwait, Morocco, Israel and Zambia (where he was ambassador). In 1993, he was appointed U.S. special envoy to the Angolan peace process — a job that led to publication of a book entitled "Angola's Last Best Chance for Peace: An Insider's Account of the Peace Process" in 1998.
"The Clinton administration was looking for somebody to play this particular role, and somehow my name popped out of the hat," said Hare in a recent interview. "We spent a year negotiating peace agreements in Lusaka. But after the agreement was signed, the Clinton administration asked me to retain that portfolio. I wasn't resident in Angola, but spent a lot of time there, going back and forth."
He still goes back and forth, usually leading trade missions on behalf of the only chamber of commerce dedicated to promoting investment in Angola.
Asked what investment opportunities the country offers, Hare doesn't hesitate.
"Oil and gas are the main ones, and that's not going to change," he said. "Outside of the oil patch, there's also interest in telecommunications, banking, and diamonds."
In 1998, the USACC opened a semi-permanent office in Luanda to assist in the expansion of membership and services in Angola. By utilizing the services of an in-country representative, the chamber hopes to boost its member services in the future.
Lorenzo Bellamy, a Washington attorney on the USACC's board of directors, said a key development has been Angola's entry last December into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers liberal access to the U.S. market for any country or region with which the United States does not have a free-trade agreement.
"We're trying to help the Angolans come up with creative ideas and identify two, three or four sectors or products in which they think they have a competitive advantage for export to the U.S. market," said Bellamy.
According to Hare, Angola is attracting not only U.S. investment but Asian interest as well.
"The Chinese are going into Angola big-time. They recently extended a very low-interest concessional loan of $2 billion, which presumably is going to be used for a variety of infrastructure projects," he said. "India is also a growing oil consumer, and they're also interested in getting involved."
A big part of the reason, says Hare, is the peace and calm that now prevails in Angola after nearly half a century of bloodshed.
"Since Jonas Savimbi's death in 2002 and the agreements that were reached as an addendum to the Lusaksa Protocol, the country has enjoyed a remarkable degree of stability," he said. "Normally after a civil war, you expect rogue elements, banditry and so on. In Angola, there hasn't been very much of that. As far as I can foresee, in the medium term things are going much better than expected after the devastating years of war, and I think they'll continue that way. The real issue for Angola is how quickly it will develop."
For more information about USACC, contact Hare or the chamber's deputy director, Maria da Cruz, at (202) 223-0540. The chamber's address is 1100 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite #1000, Washington, DC 20036.